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I love the gentle trick Biola math professor Matthew Weathers played on his class (with a little help from the University President at the end).

If I can just be a movie nerd here for a moment, I’ll point out that it reminds me of a pioneer of animated cartoons, Winsor McCay’s “Gertie the Dinosaur.” McCay was enormously successful as a political cartoonist and creator of comic strips “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend” and “Little Nemo.” He realized that if he made a lot of drawings, varying each of them slightly, and made each into a frame of film, he could animate movement. So, he drew thousands of individual pictures. And, like Professor Weathers he interacted with the animated character. I love to see new technologies and approaches sharing this most analog and human element of story-telling.

It’s a shame that a movie about the enduring pleasures of imagination and re-purposing and recycling treasured toys is also one long infomercial for more than 300 new products specifically tied to “Toy Story 3.” Susan Linn of the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood writes:

A search for toys licensed by the Toy Story franchise brings up more than 300 items on ToysRus.com, most of which squelch exactly the kind of creative play the film celebrates. One business writer described the number of Toy Story 3 products at Target as “jaw dropping.”

It’s well known that children play less creatively with media linked toys and with kits–but even more damaging are the Toy Story 3 video games for Nintendo, Sony PS3, Nintendo DS and X box. And of course, there’s the preschool educational media market: V-tech has the MobiGo Toy Story 3 Learning Software for children as young as three, and Leapfrog has learn-to-read digital story books. Never mind that screen media already occupies, on average, about 32 hours a week in the lives of two-to- five year olds at the expense of the kind of hands-on play that is so revered in the film.

It’s ironic that the real threat to toys like Woody, Buzz and the gang is not that the child who loved them grows up. It’s that, in real life, companies like Disney/Pixar have commercialized children’s leisure time to such an extent that a preschooler who might be the beneficiary of outgrown creative playthings is likely to have no idea what to do with them.

A teenager feels like he doesn’t fit in anywhere. It all comes together when he finds out that he has inherited some special powers from the father he last saw when he was seven months old. And he soon finds himself in a special school with other kids like him, where they can learn to make the most of their powers.Sound familiar? It does have something in common with Harry Potter, including a successful series of books now made into a movie. They even share a director; Chris Columbus did the first two Harry Potter films, and so he is an old hand at translating a beloved series of novels about kids with special powers on screen. Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) loves his mom (Catherine Keener) but his step-father is obnoxious and abusive. He has a loyal friend named Grover, but he is dyslexic and has ADHD so school is difficult. He is most happy and comfortable in the pool. On a field trip, the gray-haired substitute teacher turns out to be a fury. As in a shrieking flying monster. And the teacher in the wheelchair (Pierce Brosnan)? He turns out to be a centaur, half man, half horse. Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who walks with crutches, is a satyr (goat-legs) assigned to protect him. And Percy is the son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea. He is to water like Popeye is to spinach, and then some. Water gives him strength and healing powers and he can also control it. Someone has stolen the lightning bolt from Zeus (Sean Bean). And he suspects his two brothers, the gods of the sea and the underworld. He thinks Percy is hiding the bolt — and so do a number of other creatures. Percy has to find the bolt and return it to Zeus before the summer solstice. He gets a bit of training at demigod boot camp and is soon off on his quest with a shield from the son of Hermes, and a pen from the centaur, accompanied by Grover and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the swashbuckling daughter of Athena. Writer Rick Riordan is not in J.K. Rowling’s league when it comes to inventiveness, intricacy, imagination, or heart. But he has a good sense of the way a young teenager sees the world. I like the way that the things that bother Percy most in his old life turn out to be strengths in his new life. He is dyslexic with English because his brain is hard-wired to read classic Greek. He is ADHD because he has the reflexes of a warrior. And his mother stuck with the odious step-father because, well, I’ll just say because it was the best way to keep Percy hidden. I like the overlay of Greek mythology. But the attempts to bring a modern sensibility to the adventures sometimes feel forced and awkward. Lerman is a bit bland, leaving Grover to capture much of our attention and interest.But the main thing this movie seems to be missing is classically trained British actors. Brosnan is nicely majestic in a brief role and Steve Coogan brightens things up considerably as Hades. But we realize how much the Harry Potter movies benefited from top performers like Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon. Uma Thurman re-creates her all-time weakest performance by making Medusa into a snake-headed version of Poison Ivy and the usually-terrific Rosario Dawson seems lost as Persephone. We need a bit more “Clash of the Titans” and a bit less of “Circus of the Stars.”

“She’s Out of My League” recognizes that raunchiness is easy, but sweetness is the challenge. Making both parts of the equation work is something of a struggle but this movie comes closer than many.
The title says it all, and the mismatch of tone parallels the mismatch in the story. It’s a gender-reversed Cinderella story about a shlub who loves a goddess. And he has no idea what to do when it appears that she might just like him back. He cannot believe that he deserves her, and so of course he then does everything he can think of to prove he’s right by making the near-fatal mistake of taking the advice of his friends. The definitive response to this, of course, is still the scene in “Say Anything,” the quintessential she’s out of my league movie, where John Cusack responds to his friends’ awful advice: “If you guys know so much about women, how come you’re here at like the Gas ‘n’ Sip on a Saturday night completely alone drinking beers with no women anywhere?” Apparently, Kirk (Jay Baruchel of “Tropic Thunder” and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist”) never saw that movie because when one of his friends tells him that the way to a woman’s heart is to engage in an extreme makeover of a personal area, he goes for it all the way in an extended scene that somehow — see above — manages to become kind of sweet.
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A lot of the credit goes to Baruchel, in his first romantic lead, as Kirk, the TSA security guy who works at the airport so he can dream of becoming a pilot, and Alice Eve as Molly, the impossibly beautiful dream girl who also happens to be smart, successful, kind-hearted, and able to somehow see more in Kirk than anyone else ever has. They never lose sight of the fact that this has to work as a romance as well as an over-the-top outrageous comedy, and that helps carry the audience through the slow patches. Unfortunately, it doesn’t to much to get us through the excruciating patches in which Kirk is subjected to a series of humiliating events, many featuring his embarrassingly obnoxious family and ex-girlfriend as well as various drawn-out mess-ups and recoveries and confrontations, ending, finally, in the inevitable race through the airport for a movie that never makes it off the ground.

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